Retail businesses located on the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail line have cautiously welcomed Boris Johnson’s green light for the beleaguered project, despite concerns that it could deepen the polarisation of primary centres.
The prime minister last week announced work on the high-speed rail link would begin immediately, potentially costing more than £100bn. The first phase between London and Birmingham is due to open between 2028 and 2031, and the second between Manchester and Leeds has been pushed back to 2035-40.
Mark Howard, owner of Birmingham independent Disorder Boutique said Birmingham’s proposed Curzon Street HS2 Terminal could drive up retail property prices.
“If it’s purely about becoming a commuter belt that’s not necessarily a great thing, and could drive up retail property prices,” he said. “But if it’s about people relocating and investment and businesses starting up then it’s a positive. The city will shift around as it’s coming into a new station [away from New Street] where the larger retailer developments have a stronghold. That will open up opportunities for independents and investment.”
Head of retail consultancy at property agency Harper Dennis Hobbs Jonathan De Mello said the transport link was likely to benefit London’s retail scene more than the north of England, and could increase the polarisation of retail’s primary and secondary locations: “[Reduced journey times] would principally benefit London from a retail perspective as opposed to Manchester and Birmingham given the wider flagship retail offer London provides. However, given HS2’s major city focus, the scheme would mainly serve to exacerbate the polarisation we are seeing in retail, in terms of primary vs secondary centres.”
However, others have said Johnson’s go-ahead for HS2 has already made a difference to the north of England.
“Crewe has already seen some benefits from HS2 as investors speculate on its arrival, and so it is fantastic that the government has confirmed its commitment to the project”, a spokesman from menswear and formal hire independent Platts Menswear, which has been located in Crewe since 1966, told Drapers. “The town is in urgent need of investment and to reclaim its position as one of the most connected areas in the UK. Having HS2 will undoubtedly give a boost to existing businesses, attract inward investment and job creation which can only be good for footfall and sales.”
Doug Tweedie, director at Birmingham property consultancy FHP, told Drapers: “This is great for the region. The most damaging to businesses was the uncertainty over whether HS2 would be delivered or not. With the recent announcement, businesses along each stage of the route can manage their growth and investment plans for the future.”
Meanwhile, several industry sources have called for the government to “get HS2 done” to avoid more uncertainty.
National chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Mike Cherry told Drapers: “It is very welcome that, at long last, a clear decision has been made to proceed with HS2. The time for debate is over – let’s get the shovels out and put some high speed into the process of building it.”
“This is a crucial infrastructure project that will bring economic benefits both during its construction, and in the capacity and productivity improvements it will create once it’s operational. It will allow for a greater number of both passenger and freight services, take lorries off congested roads, and help to improve connectivity across the Midlands and north of England.”
Marc Granditer, managing director of independent designer kidswear chain Base, which has a store in Birmingham’s Grand Central shopping development, agreed that the project would “have a positive impact long-term and create a more efficient transport network [to] help the city’s position as a major commercial centre”.
Councillor Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “I welcome the news that the government intends pressing ahead with the London-to-Birmingham stage of HS2, but it’s disappointing that the second stage to link Birmingham with the North faces yet another review.
“We will only truly see the full benefits of HS2 when Birmingham and the Midlands are at the very heart of a national network. So, while the [latest] news is welcome, the simple message for the government now is to ‘get HS2 done’. Let this be the end of the delays and uncertainty.”